Here at Champion Performance and Physical Therapy, we have a number of patients who, while they eat healthy, exercise consistently, and get plenty of nourishment and water, are in pain because they're missing one of the most under appreciated aspects of physical health in their daily lifestyles - stretching.
It may seem like the most basic additive, but you must remember: the skeletal body is a lever system manipulated by musculature. In other words, your skeletal system will not move without the help of your muscular system, and each bone is almost entirely surrounded by muscles for this purpose.
During exercise (and after your warm up), your body is warm due to increased blood flow, the muscles are loose and firing. Afterward, the muscles will cool, and if not properly stretched, will stiffen due to the biochemical aftereffects of exercise. While an effective fitness program should absolutely consist of cardiovascular training and strength training, the flexibility component is often overlooked.
This is where skeletomuscular injuries come into play, specifically those relieved via physical therapy. When muscles tighten and stiffen, they pull just slightly on the bones in their direction. For example: runners often have tight hip flexors and quadriceps (the front of the thigh). These muscles attach and originate along the anterior aspect (front) and inside of the pelvis. When they stiffen, they pull the pelvis slightly forward. Over a long period of time, the pelvis will shift so far forward that it will start to cause low back pain that can sometimes radiate into the hips, and SI - sacroiliac - joint, which is the point of attachment between the spine and pelvis. This can even radiate down the leg and into the knees, as the muscular insertion for the quadriceps are just below the knee on the tibia (shin bone). Often times when patients come in with knee pain and all X-rays and MRI scans show no injury, it is because the muscles have pulled the skeletal system just out of sync enough for you to notice.
Flexibility exercises are not only an essential part of recovering from aerobic activity, but can reduce your risk for further injury. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) encourages individuals to incorporate these exercises into their daily workouts.
“Increasing your flexibility improves your ability to move easily,” said orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson Raymond Rocco Monto, MD. “Some joints lose up to 50 percent of motion as we age. There are many ways to improve your joint flexibility including controlled stretches held for 10-30 seconds, stretches that rely on reflexes to produce deeper flexibility, as well as yoga and pilates.”
Before skipping flexibility exercises during your next workout, consider these five benefits of adding them to your workout regimen:
- Less back and joint pain: A 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that regular stretching was effective in relieving chronic back pain. Other research has shown quadriceps stretches helped decrease knee pain.
- Better circulation: A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology discovered that torso stretches decreased stiffness and improved blood flow. This also may be why regular bedtime hamstring and calf stretches decrease the frequency and intensity of night-time leg cramps.
- Improved joint motion: Flexibility naturally decreases with age. Stretching can help restore lost joint motion and improve function.
- Better athletic performance: Like a good rubber band, muscles and tendons generate more force under tension when they are supple and compliant.
- Improved muscle health: Mobility exercises can increase the amount of stress muscles can handle in high tension activities that involve jumping and cutting movements.
Get the most out of your flexibility training by following these simple guidelines:
- Always warm up before your stretch. Stretching cold muscles can cause injury.
- Stretch slowly and gently. Breathe into your stretch to avoid muscle tension. Relax and hold each stretch 10 to 30 seconds.
- Do not bounce your stretches. Ballistic (bouncy) stretching can cause injury.
- Stretching should not hurt. If you feel pain, take the stretch easier, breathe deeply and relax into it.
Stretching is important and can be tough to master to maximum efficiency. The trouble is, it takes some time to stretch muscles back out to a healthy length. A combination of stretching, manual therapy to help relieve some tension in the joints that are being pulled on, and strengthening the opposing muscles to those inflicting pain should easily solve the problem and have you pain free within weeks. Here at Champion Performance and Physical Therapy, this is probably the most common cause of injury we see, and we approach it with a unique, biomechanically-based mechanism meant to relieve pain and tension through multiple planes of your body. Why? Because your body doesn't move in just one plane.
Talk to your doctor today about what physical therapy can help do for you. For more information, visit us on the SW corner of 75th and State Line Road in Prairie Village, or by phone at 913-291-2290.